Like a Tree

(6th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 17:5-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26)

Twice today we encounter the image of a fruit tree planted by a source of water. Jeremiah uses it to describe those who trust in the Lord; the Psalm applies it to those who delight in meditating on God’s law. Both paint a painful image of those who place their trust and delight elsewhere.

At first glance, Jesus seems to use the same language, but it is clear that “woe to you” is very different from a curse. It is a warning. We find a similar concern at times in the context of La Salette. What some people read as Mary’s threats are more correctly understood as warnings.

The theme of the tree can be applied to all of today’s readings, and to La Salette as well. The point of Jesus’ beatitudes and woes, and of Mary’s promises and warnings, is to invite us to place our trust in God and not in ourselves.

Even the second reading, in which Paul insists on the truth of the resurrection of the body, connects to the same theme. As Greeks, the Corinthians prided themselves on their philosophy, which had no concept of bodily life after death. Paul expresses a sort of woe when he writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.”

Returning to the idea of the tree planted by water, remember that water is a strong symbol at La Salette. Mary came to help her people have deep roots and unfading green leaves and abundant fruit.

Besides the physical stream, the Beautiful Lady reminds us of another stream that is always a source of life. “Do you say your prayers well, my children?... You should say them well, at night and in the morning.” If she had been thinking of Psalm 1, she might have asked, “Do you delight in the law of the Lord?... You should meditate on his law day and night.”

As you know, plants need not only water but light as well. Prayer can be likened also to photosynthesis, enabling us to take in the light of Christ, which will work together with the water so that we may be strong in our faith and live in abiding hope.

For storms will surely come, dark and difficult days, but blessed are we if we remain united to our Risen Lord and to his Blessed Mother.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Deeper Waters

(5th Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)

There are many similarities in today’s three readings. For example, an extraordinary encounter with the Lord caused Isaiah, Paul, and Simon to be keenly aware of their sinfulness. This may be part of our own experience, too.

Another comparison is less obvious, but equally important. Jesus tells Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” and, a few verses later, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Isaiah and Paul were likewise admitted to the depths of God’s mystery, and given a mission.

At La Salette, the image is again different, but the reality is the same. We are drawn upward, to a mountain height but, with Mélanie and Maximin, we receive a mission, to make an important message known by our words and by our life.

Isaiah was especially troubled, but received a sign of God’s forgiveness when the burning ember touched his lips. Mary identified some of the sins by which her people were offending the Lord; and she reminded us of the importance of practicing our Catholic faith, especially the Eucharist which Jesus instituted “for the forgiveness of sins.” Remember this the next time the consecrated host passes your lips.

The Church also provides the sign of absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which every La Salette priest treasures in his heart. The beautiful stories we could tell!

We come once again to three key “La Salette words:” reconciliation (acknowledging and accepting our unworthiness); conversion (turning back to God and accepting his forgiveness]; and making the message known (evangelizing).

In Simon’s case, this began with his allowing Jesus to use his boat as a stage from which to teach the crowds. Little did he know where this simple act of welcome would lead.

The clear message which the Beautiful Lady proclaimed at La Salette is one which the world still greatly needs. If in our hearts and actions we let Jesus into the humble boat of our lives and go deeper at his command, who knows what good we might do?

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

A Safe Place

(4th Ordinary Sunday: Jeremiah 1:4-19; 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

We begin this reflection with a prayer, for ourselves or others in need, addressed to the Lord in today’s Psalm. “Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety, for you are my rock and my fortress.”

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.” Imagine what it would be like to hear such words, to be certain that the Lord has a plan for us.

Jeremiah was young and inexperienced, and tried to refuse; but God promised to be with him and, as we hear in today’s first reading, to make him “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,” ready for the hard life that lay ahead.

Perhaps we are more willing than Jeremiah, but we still need the same assurances he received. We need a sense of security, trusting always that the Lord is our refuge.

Consider Maximin and Mélanie, totally unprepared for their call. The sweetness of the Beautiful Lady’s voice made them feel safe, and the memory of her tenderness must have been a refuge for them as they faced the incredulity, and even hostility, of many people.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus did not initially meet with outright rejection in his hometown, but neither did he find the welcome he might reasonably have expected. His old neighbors seem to have thought that he was putting on airs. We too, when we seek to share our faith, might sometimes, sad to say, be better received by people who know us less well.

As we read St. Paul’s famous description of love, in the second reading, the image of God himself keeps coming to mind. This ought not to come as a surprise, since St. John, in his First Letter (4:16), writes, “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.”

Our prayer might therefore take this form: “Your love is everything, O Lord. In it I take refuge, and I will never be put to shame.” Let us anchor ourselves to the rock of our salvation, i.e., a loving relationship with God, as we seek to bring reconciliation to our world.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

The Ambo

(3rd Ordinary Sunday: Nehemiah 8:2-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-30; Luke 1: 1-4 and 4:14-21)

In the first reading Ezra stands on a platform specially built for the occasion, so that he may be better seen and heard, as he reads the Book of the Law.

That structure is familiar to us, of course, since we see it in most of our churches as the ambo. Its purpose is to highlight the importance of the Word of God which is proclaimed there. It is also used for the preaching of the homily and for the Prayer of the Faithful.

The ambo as an architectural element within a church is prominent. Is there a place of prominence within ourselves and our domestic church where the Word (The Law) is revered, kept, and announced? At La Salette, Mary showed that this was not the case.

So, she chose a high place, a mountain ambo, to bring her great news, a reminder of things forgotten by her people. These include the Law, of course, but not merely a list of rules and regulations. She did not come only to say that our fallen nature and sin have separated us from God, but she wanted us to know that God still wants us to be in relationship with him, if we would but convert, putting the Word back in a prominent place in our everyday lives.

The diverse ways in which we can do this are highlighted in our second reading, in which St. Paul continues his commentary on the gifts of the Spirit. We are all needed, each of us with our uniqueness, to serve the whole body. Our individuality should not create points of isolation and separation but be a gift to bring to the whole body of Christ.

It is hard to imagine two persons more different from each other than Mélanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud. But Mary chose them both. We who have received that unique La Salette missionary zeal, should also see ourselves as part of a whole, and find that one grace, that one gift, by which we can contribute to the whole and strengthen the Whole Body of Christ.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes himself in the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me... He has sent me....” We too are anointed and sent in our own way. May these weekly reflections, in the spirit of the Beautiful Lady, be an ambo from which Jesus is faithfully proclaimed.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

So Many Gifts

(2nd Ordinary Sunday: Isaiah 62:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11)

We concluded last week’s reflection with these words: “Let us never forget or neglect the gift we received in our baptism.” Today’s readings will help us expand upon that theme.

In Isaiah 6, the prophet described his calling. God asked, “Whom shall I send?” and Isaiah volunteered: “Here I am, send me!” Today, in Isaiah 62, he says, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” He was the voice of God among his people; ever attentive to God’s will, he proclaimed it faithfully.

Today’s Gospel tells the story of the Wedding at Cana. Because the focus is on a miracle, we do not usually think of this passage in the context of prophecy. And yet, Mary performs a prophetic role. Recognizing the will of God in the need of others, she is not silent. She speaks to Jesus. Then, in words that echo all the prophets, she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus then gives a prophetic sign.

At La Salette we see the same dynamic. Like the prophets, Mary pleads our cause before the Lord. To us she speaks through warnings—reminding us of what we must do—and promises—showing what we may hope for—to which she adds the persuasive power of tears.

Prophecy is not given to everyone. The second reading makes that eminently clear. Saint Paul mentions no less than seven other gifts of the Spirit. In fact, if we consider the history the Church, there are Religious Congregations whose vocation is... silence!

In the context of so many gifts, “I will not be silent” becomes, “I will not resist the movement of the Spirit.” Whatever our gift is, we must put it to use. Saint Paul writes, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit,” that is, for others, first in the Christian community, but also beyond.

When we put our gifts at the service of others, we are also carrying out the command expressed in the Responsorial Psalm: “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.”

Accepting God’s will means that the gift of faith received at baptism will find expression in other gifts. One such is our La Salette vocation.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Indelibly Sealed, and Clothed

(Baptism of the Lord: Isaiah 40:1-11; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-22)

“One baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This phrase near the end of the Creed reflects the conclusion of a debate in the early Church. The question was whether Christians who were baptized by heretics, had to be baptized a second time when they became Catholics.

The answer was no, on condition that the baptism was in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For it is through that baptism that one becomes a Christian. This is often referred to as the seal of baptism, indelible and permanent.

It is no wonder that the church looks upon this sacrament as foundational and the first of the sacraments received, required before all of the other sacraments. Just as Jesus at the river Jordan was, so to speak, introduced and prepared for his public ministry, so too we are introduced into the Church by our baptism and receive our share in the priesthood of Christ.

The voice from heaven said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In the rite of baptism, we are clothed in a white garment as a sign of our Christian dignity, and are encouraged to live accordingly.

Mary came from heaven, where she lives in the light of God, who is “clothed with majesty and glory, robed in light as with a cloak,” as we read in the Psalm. Upon the physical heights of a mountain, she wept over the spiritual depths to which her people had fallen. The baptismal garment of her people was stained, and the Christian seal was barely recognizable.

Like the prophet, she spoke tenderly. In her own words she called on us to prepare or, better yet, repair the way of the Lord, in our heart and in our way of life.

In the second reading, St. Paul gives a wonderful description of baptism when he writes that God “saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

At the heart of our La Salette message and ministry of reconciliation is hope. To nourish it, let us never forget or neglect the gift we received in our baptism.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

In the Path of the Magi

(Epiphany: Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

The best definition we found for the Epiphany is: “The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi” (Oxford Languages). In other words, their story is our story—as Christians and as La Salettes.

The Magi were guided by the light of a star, to him whom we call “Light from Light, true God from true God.” At La Salette Mary appears in light, but she is not the light. Like the star, she leads us to her Son, she manifests him to us in the dazzlingly bright crucifix she wears.

Isaiah tells Jerusalem, “Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.” while other peoples are covered with darkness and thick clouds. The Beautiful Lady speaks to just such a people, inviting them to turn to the light which is Christ.

We are modern-day Magi. Mary helps us as we seek Christ. She reminds us of the importance of Sunday worship, daily prayer, and Lenten discipline, that we may do him homage.

St. Paul dwelt in darkness until the day of his epiphany, his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He writes to the Ephesians that this revelation was not only for him. but “for your benefit.” He had become a guiding light, and wanted the Christian community to be the same.

We who have accepted the gift of faith, should see it as given to us for the benefit of others. We can share it by our words, of course; but by our own example of faith, hope and charity, Christ our light can shine through us, dispelling the darkness and guiding others to him.

It is not expected, nor is it necessary, that each of us be a great star, visible from afar. Stars also have different colors. Scientists say this is because of their surface temperature, among other things. The ardor of our faith will vary from time to time.

Remember that the flame even of a tiny candle dispels the darkness, and the darkness can never overcome it. A gentle, comforting light can be as attractive as a brilliant sun.

La Salette is a light meant to be shared through our reconciling mission. What an epiphany we can be!

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Always Welcome

(Holy Family: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24; Luke 2:1-52)

At the General Audience of August 11, 1976, Pope Paul VI addressed parents as follows: “Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? ... And you, fathers, do you pray with your children?” Here we are reminded of the question Mary asked at La Salette, “Do you say your prayers well, my children?”

True prayer is not a matter of words alone. It creates bonds between us and God; but let us not forget that it also deepens the sharing of faith among those who pray together. It is essential to the life of the Christian family, which St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church called the “domestic Church.” Vatican II revived this expression, and several Church documents have used it since then. (Some are quoted or paraphrased below.)

In Jewish practice, the family is the primary place of worship. Through his incarnation, the Son of God “chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family.” Joseph and Mary taught him to pray, and to feel at home in the Temple—though they never anticipated the scene described in today’s Gospel!

Christian parents are described in recent documents as the first heralds of the faith. In the blessing of parents which concludes the rite of Baptism, we hear: “May God bless the father of this child. He and his wife will be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith. May they be also the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what they say and do.”

The Beautiful Lady continues to exercise this role, calling us to live as she and Joseph and Jesus did, honoring God, and obeying his will.

Like any family, the domestic Church is “a school for human enrichment,” where we learn precious family values. But it is different, too. A family that lives its faith, receiving the sacraments, praying and giving thanks, and demonstrating holiness of life through self-denial and charity, can be an “island of Christian life in an unbelieving world,”

The Psalmist exclaims, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!” We are always welcome in our Father’s house. As a domestic Church, he in turn is always welcome in ours.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Elizabeth and Mary and Us

(4th Sunday of Advent: Micah 5:1-4; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45)

The opening lines of Micah’s prophecy about Bethlehem, in today’s first reading, are best remembered as the text used by the scholars of Jerusalem to tell the Magi where to look for the Christ child. Bethlehem played a significant role in salvation history.

But the rest of the text is equally important. Two phrases stand out in particular: “she who is to give birth,” and “he shall be peace.” These, too, point to Bethlehem, but in today’s Gospel they can be heard, so to speak, at a town in the hill country. less than five miles from Jerusalem.

Mary and Elizabeth can both be identified as “she who is to give birth.” As for their children, Jesus “shall be peace,” while John will be, like Micah, a prophet to announce the Lord’s coming.

Elizabeth’s words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” were incorporated (along with the greeting of the Angel Gabriel) into the Hail Mary in its earliest forms. We can imagine those scenes when we say this prayer.

The second part of the Hail Mary is clearly reflected at La Salette, when Our Lady tells us that she prays for us without ceasing—which is the same as when we say, “now and at the hour of our death.”

Her prayer is “for us sinners,” i.e. for our forgiveness, and that we may prepare to meet the Lord with clean hearts and converted souls, beginning now and until death.

We always call Our Lady of La Salette the Beautiful Lady, or the Weeping Mother, but today let us think of her as she who is to give birth or, as Elizabeth says, “the mother of my Lord.” Luke tells us Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she heard Mary’s greeting. She received a spiritual gift (charism) that prompted her to speak in a prophetic way.

Mary’s greeting at La Salette brought with it a peaceful spirit, calming the fears of Mélanie and Maximin. It drew them to her, opening them to hear her great news, empowering them to make it known.

In this same spirit, let us press forward eagerly on our Advent journey to Bethlehem, and invite others to join us and be introduced to our Savior.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

Mission of Joy

(3rd Sunday of Advent: Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18)

Today is Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, so we are not surprised to hear Zephaniah telling Jerusalem, and Paul the Philippians, to rejoice. Both are beyond enthusiastic!

But someone else is rejoicing, too. Look at the end of the first reading. “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.” Is there any image of God more likely than this to bring joy into our hearts?

Zephaniah gives the reason: “The Lord has removed the judgment against you... The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.”

God’s judgment was certainly just; his people were rightly punished. But mercy triumphed, and once again God was willing to make a fresh start. The tears of the Beautiful Lady of La Salette, falling on the crucifix over her heart, are a sign of mercy, Mary’s way of telling us that the Lord, whose judgment is just, has no desire to abandon us entirely. She is letting her people know that God wants to be close to us, to renew his love for us and restore his covenant with us.

The Lord Emmanuel is near. Therefore, we ought to rejoice always, and the expression of this joy should flow out of us into the world around us. That, however, is easier said than done. During Advent, in particular, some experience more stress than at other times, due either to the many preparations for Christmas, or to the painful loneliness that, strangely, the season can intensify.

In this context, let us remember John the Baptist. The Gospels do not depict him as especially joyful, but today’s Gospel Acclamation seems to apply to him the text from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” His glad tidings take the form of a call to genuine conversion, but in view of the promise of another who is to come.

Whether our La Salette mission is more like John’s or like Zephaniah’s and Paul’s, let us carry it out with all the joy we can.

Wayne Vanasse, and Fr. René Butler, M.S.

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